DUBAI: The US State Department has called for a thorough criminal investigation into the death of an elderly Palestinian-American man who died while being detained by members of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US expected “full accountability” from the IDF, over the death of Omar Abdalmajeed As’ad, 78, of Jiljilya earlier this month,The Jerusalem Post reported.
The Israeli army confirmed on Tuesday that it was stripping two officers of their commands.
A third soldier - a battalion commander – will be reprimanded over the death.
But speaking to journalists in Washington, Price said “We expect a thorough criminal investigation and full accountability in this case.”
“We welcome receiving additional information on these efforts as soon as possible. We continue to discuss this troubling incident with the Israeli Government,” he added.
The Israeli army said the death of As’ad during a late-night security operation, on Jan. 12 was the result of “moral failure and poor decision-making.”
Troops arrested As’ad at an impromptu checkpoint on his way home.
He shouted at them, drawing attention to the soldiers who did not want people to know the surprise inspection was taking place, the Post reported.
A soldier covered the man’s mouth with his hand, before using a cloth gag, which As’ad pulled off.
As’ad’s hands were zip-tied behind his back and he was taken to an abandoned courtyard, where he was detained along with several other Palestinians, for about 30 minutes.
It was during this time that troops say they thought As’ad had fallen asleep, claiming they had seen no signs of distress and did not call for medical assistance, or attempt to wake him before they left.
Having noticed he was unresponsive, residents took him to a Ramallah hospital where he was pronounced dead.
An autopsy, later carried out by the Palestinian Authority, concluded that As’ad died of a “stress-induced sudden cardiac arrest due to external injuries.”
“We continue,” Price said, “to be concerned by the circumstances of the death of Mr Omar Assad. He, of course, was a US citizen who was found dead on January 12 after Israeli soldiers detained him in the West Bank.”
A command-level inquiry has already taken place alongside an ongoing Military Police investigation, in which a number of military personnel and other witnesses being questioned.
The investigation was given to IDF Chief of Staff Lt-Gen Aviv Kohavi on Monday by the head of the Central Command Maj-Gen Yehuda Fuchs, the Post reported.
As’ad’s death was an extremely grave ethical failure and goes against IDF values, Kohavi said.
“Nobody should be left this way on the ground, no matter how old he is, even if he is asleep,” Fuchs added.
“We arrested him, therefore it was our responsibility to take care of him.”